March 2017


  Senate Committee hears testimony on draft schools regs

Pesticides' necessity denounced as "myth" by UN

Chlorpyrifos federal ban in jeopardy

CA Senate Environmental Quality Committee: Do the proposed schools regs go far enough?
Regs don't address chronic health effects, experts say

Angel Garcia testifies at the Senate Environmental Quality Hearing March 1.

The Department of Pesticide Regulation director and his top advisor endured a grilling last week at a packed hearing convened by the California Senate Committee on Environmental Quality to consider the new schools regs. 

Testimony from the panel of experts made clear that the real harm endured by farmworker communities is not from acute poisoning incidents but from chronic exposure  - and these regulations as drafted don't address that problem. 

DPR's response?  Who cares. 

DPR's special advisor Randy Segawa described the regulations this way: "They're not designed to reduce exposures." 

This was news to the residents and advocates who packed the hearing. "We've pushed DPR for years to come up with rules to reduce pesticide exposure at school," commented CPR co-director Sarah Aird. "So it's outrageous to hear DPR walk away from their commitment to protect kids in California's most impacted communities."

Speaker after speaker at the hearing pointed out that the biggest problem is not with headline-grabbing - but fairly rare - acute exposure incidents, but with the long-term health effects of chronic exposure, especially on young children. 

California Department of Public Health director Dr. Karen Smith put it plainly: "Repeated exposures to low-level pesticides contribute to chronic negative health effects."

Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) added, "I'd rather have a single acute reaction than to be exposed to pesticides from infancy over a prolonged time."

Industry representatives agreed. "You're right to be concerned," said Roger Isom, president of Western Agricultural Processors Association. "We don't want to spray pesticides, that's the last thing we want to do." 

So why isn't DPR trying to reduce exposure? 

The four-hour long hearing also considered the provision to notify schools of planned pesticide use - a key demand of community members. 

Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) warned that notification would cause "panic" and "mayhem" for schools in ag communities. Mr. Isom concurred: "Organophosphates are a nerve agent, when Joe or Ms. Homeowner sees 'nerve agent', they're gonna pull their kids out of school." 

However, the predicted mayhem has not materialized in Kern and Monterey, two counties that have implemented pilot notification programs, according to testimony from Francisco Rodriguez, president of the Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers, and Jeff Rasmussen, Agricultural Pesticide Control Advisor in Kern.

For community members, "notification is an integral component that cannot be left out of these regulations," said Tulare County organizer Angel Garcia. (Angel's  testimony starts at 2:59, public comment starts at 3:20.)

The regulations are expected to be adopted in final form this fall.

UN experts denounce 'myth' that pesticides are necessary to feed the world
Pesticides have "catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole"

UN food and pollution experts have dismissed as "myth" the idea that pesticides are essential to feed a fast-growing global population, the Guardian reported this week.

The article describes a  new report presented to the UN human rights council yesterday, that is severely critical of the global corporations that manufacture pesticides, accusing them of the "systematic denial of harms", "aggressive, unethical marketing tactics" and heavy lobbying of governments which has "obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions".

The report says pesticides have "catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole", including an estimated 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning. Its authors said: "It is time to create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production," adding that  "Chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility."

The world's population is set to grow from 7 billion today to 9 billion in 2050. The pesticide industry argues that its products - a market worth about $50bn (£41bn) a year and growing - are vital in protecting crops and ensuring sufficient food supplies.

"It is a myth," said Hilal Elver, the UN's special rapporteur on the right to food. "Using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger. According to the UN Food and  Agriculture Organisation (FAO), we are able to feed 9 billion people today. Production is definitely increasing, but the problem is poverty, inequality and distribution."

The new report, which is co-authored by Baskut Tuncak, the UN's special rapporteur on toxics, said: "While scientific research confirms the adverse effects of pesticides, proving a definitive link between exposure and human diseases or conditions or harm to the ecosystem presents a considerable challenge. This challenge has been exacerbated by a systematic denial, fuelled by the pesticide and agro-industry, of the magnitude of the damage inflicted by these chemicals, and aggressive, unethical marketing tactics."

She said some developed countries did have "very strong" regulations for pesticides, such as the EU, which she said based their rules on the "precautionary principle". The  EU banned the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which harm bees, on flowering crops in 2013, a move strongly opposed by the industry. But she noted that others, such as the US, did not use the precautionary principle.

Elver also said that while consumers in developed countries are usually better protected from pesticides, farms workers often are not. In the US, she, said, 90% of farm workers were undocumented and their consequent lack of legal protections and health insurance put them at risk from pesticide use.

It recommended a move towards a global treaty to govern the use of pesticides and a move to sustainable practices including natural methods of suppressing pests and crop rotation, as well as incentivising organically produced food.

Deadline for US EPA to ban brain-harming chlorpyrifos March 31
Amid chaos at the EPA under Pruitt's leadership, Gov. Brown is called on to step up

"It should come as no surprise that I am working diligently with Oklahoma energy companies... to fight the unlawful overreach of the EPA" - Then-future EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, 2014.

The well-documented brain-harming effects of the organophosphate chlorpyrifos, widely used in California, have led it to the brink of a total ban, announced by the US EPA last fall and set to be finalized on March 31. Already banned for home use in 2001, chlorpyrifos has been linked to neurological, developmental and autoimmune disorders, and to IQ loss in children who were exposed before birth. 

However the ban now looks all but certain to be trumped, as avowed opponent of environmental regulation and best friend of the oil and gas industry EPA chief Scott Pruitt gets to work dismantling his agency. Among the most likely casualties of Pruitt's sledgehammer are pending regulations - including the chlorpyrifos ban.

In light of this probable blow to the health and potential of rural children, CPR is calling on Governor Brown to move rapidly to enact a statewide ban of chlorpyrifos, crippling its sales by removing its biggest US market: California agriculture, consumer of more than 1.3 million pounds a year.

Make your voice heard: Tell Governor Brown
Ban chlorpyrifos now! 
If Pruitt won't do it, Brown must take it down.